The Valentine’s Day start for the 11th cricket World Cup has more than a symbolic meaning. The 44-day tournament in Australia and New Zealand will give a clear indication where the love affair of the world with One-Day cricket stands. The Melbourne Cricket Ground, where Australia are facing traditional rivals England in their opening game on Saturday, was where the seeds of the ODI format were sown in January, 1971.
The 14 teams will this time compete in one of the most open World Cups, and if the gap has narrowed among the top sides that is due to the Twenty20 phenomenon. Although cricket bosses are reluctant to admit, One-Day cricket is fighting to stay relevant as T-20 has become an irresistible package for fans. However, if there’s more dynamism in ODIs today, everyone should thank the T-20 version. Both batsmen with their innovative shots as well as bowlers who are constantly scrambling to counter them in tough conditions have borrowed heavily from the exciting techniques that T-20 cricket offers.
The International Cricket Council, while swearing that it gives equal treatment to all three formats of the game, has tacitly acknowledged that ODI cricket cannot survive if it becomes a tedious affair by reducing the field for the 2019 edition in England to 10 teams. With only the top eight teams assured of automatic entries, it is possible that even two Test teams could miss out as only two will go through the qualifying rounds.
The usual buzz around the World Cup is absent in India this time, largely due to the team’s poor performances on the tour of Australia. Injuries, poor form and fatigue have all taken a toll on Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s squad as it gears up for the title defence. All attention will be on India’s opening match against Pakistan in Adelaide on Sunday. Although India has an impeccable record against their perennial rivals, every stakeholder in the game will be anxious for that run to continue and spread the feel good factor in the game’s commercial destination. Indian fans are critical for the financial health of the World Cup and both Australia and New Zealand have vigorously promoted the event in India.
It is likely to be Dhoni’s last World Cup and the standing of the younger players in the side will depend much on how they stand up to the big challenge. In India, other games are vying for attention, and though not anywhere close to cricket’s popularity, they have taken a leaf out of cricket by launching franchise leagues, giving young fans a choice. Controversies around top cricket administrators have also affected the goodwill cricket has enjoyed.
Cricket cannot take its infallibility in India for granted.